The government has challenged a case by the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) seeking to stop the arrest of bloggers for posting information online, related to COVID 19. This is after two bloggers Robert Alai and Cyprian Nyakundi were separately charged for posting alleged fake news on the coronavirus.
The state however quoted that freedom of expression has its limitations, contrary to the argument by LSK. In a statement through the National Police Service, the state argued that, “The right to freedom of expression contains both positive and negative connotation and the negative restrains the government from unnecessary intruding into the private sphere of an individual,” read court documents.
In an affidavit, IG Hillary Mutyambai says in this age of Covid-19, fake news will spread faster than the coronavirus itself. He also argued that it is the responsibility of the state to ensure only verifiable information is conveyed through the public, through proper channels.
“Unfortunately, in view of the nature of the internet and the speed with which information is disseminated, the fake news could spread faster than the virus,” he argues.
The police boss says that cybercriminals are exploiting interest in the global epidemic to spread fake news and malicious information relating to the outbreak of the virus. The information is alarming, unverified and misleading. He further claims that fake news causes panic and tension among citizens resulting in loss of life.
In the case, LSK has challenged the decision by the state to arrest and charge the bloggers for publicising information on Covid-19.
“The arrest, arraignment and prosecution for Covid-19 related publication under the statute is likely to have a chilling effect on the public. Bloggers, activists, journalists and whistleblowers will be discouraged from publishing information on a suspected violation of Ministry of Health Covid-19 guidelines,” the lawyers say.
Through lawyer Dudley Ochiel, LSK says sections 22 and 23 of the Cybercrime Act should be suspended as they limit freedom of expression by criminalising false publication.
“It would be disastrous if due to the chilling effects of threatened arrest and convictions under the Act independent journalists and activists are discouraged from publishing information online on violation of Ministry of Health regulations,” Ochiel says.
The Law Society of Kenya was an interested party in the initial Computer misuse and cybercrimes case, in conjunction with the Bloggers Association of Kenya(BAKE) and other interested parties. After the judgement on February 20, 2020, they decided to file an appeal of their own. On 5th March 2020, they filed a Notice of Appeal. They thereafter filed an application seeking the suspension of the High Court judgement and particularly sections 22 and 23 of the Computer Misuse and Cyber Crimes Act on false publications and publication of false information.